Deli Magazine

Where Is My Mind?: Grandchildren's Aleks Martray

- by Q.D. Tran

It should be no surprise that I’ve been waiting for this day for a while, well, for you (I have my copy already) and the West Philly crew, Grandchildren, because today is finally the official release of their long-awaited debut full length Everlasting on Green Owl Records. Get ready to see these D!D!G! electro-acoustic art rockers blow up! I am also happy to announce that The Deli Magazine will be co-presenting Grandchildren’s Album Release Party with Dock Street Brewing Co. We are stoked to share in this evening full of good vibes and great music! You can check out my interview with Grandchildren mastermind Aleks Martray about the making of Everlasting, his second home, how The Jackson 5 can take him to his “happy place”, and much, much more.

The Deli: So it feels like we’ve been talking about the release of your debut full length for way too long now. How long has it been? What is the first song you wrote that made Everlasting?

Aleks Martray: It's definitely been a journey. The album evolved in phases over a couple years, which was grueling at times, but I think ultimately added a lot of character to the recordings. In the summer of 2007, my electric guitar cracked in half and so I started writing songs on an acoustic guitar I found in my basement (to this day I don’t know where it came from). “Cold Warrior” was the first song that came out of combining this acoustic sound with the sampled electronic beats I had been experimenting with. The sound felt serendipitous. Originally, the first three tracks were one song with 3 sections, and if you listen, you can hear certain melodies resurface in different ways throughout the recordings. I knew little about recording and sampling, but it became a way to create without limitations and build a sound you couldn't really explain. These initial recordings were rough, but they laid the groundwork for the sound and feel of Grandchildren, and evolved into the five-song Cold Warrior EP. The second half of the album emerged as the six-piece band formed around the idea of creating a small orchestra to bring the large surreal sound of the recordings to life. I think the result is that both the album and our live performance have a narrative feel that echo the evolution of the music itself and everything we've gone through in the past couple years.

TD: What made you decide to name the album Everlasting instead of Cold Warrior as originally planned?

AM: “Cold Warrior” was the first song created for the album and it represents the inception of the album. “Everlasting” was the final song to emerge at the eleventh hour when the album was already “finished”. We felt it would breathe some new life into the album and represent where we're headed. The full album is something very different from the EP, and it demanded a new name. Everlasting seemed right. I think we are a band that’s continuously evolving, and it’s often those last minute changes that bring clarity to everything.

TD: Grandchildren are made up of members who have performed in different bands over the years. Was their a show or moment that made you all decide that maybe it’s time to put more into this project?

AM: Not so much a show but rather a two-month US tour that zig-zagged across the continent like an infinity symbol. We were touring as 2 bands, 6 guys, tons of equipment, all in 1 van. I think it was a right of passage for all of us as musicians. We realized that we were at our best when we combined our efforts. Though it was a grueling tour, with everything from van break-ins, to adult chicken pox, to blizzards, and a brief run-in with the border patrol, the overwhelming response we got from audiences was unlike anything any of us had received in past projects. I think in the end that's what kept us going. We realized that in this music each of us has a unique role that fits who we are and what we have to offer, and that’s rare. So we returned home 100% Grandchildren.

TD: When we first talked, you had produced the album yourself with mixing help from Kyle Pulley (Dangerous Ponies), is the album still basically stuff that you did on your own or have you mixed in work from your band members?

AM: The album was completely self-recorded and produced, created primarily on one microphone and one laptop (which ironically just kicked the bucket a month after the album was finished, RIP). The drum and horn arrangements were a collaboration with Tristan Palazzollo and Roman Salcic, co-founders of Grandchildren. Tristan’s ability to play any instrument you put in his hands and Roman's Balkan chops really fleshed out the orchestral feel of the recordings. Kyle spent countless all-nighters working with me in his studio mixing these dense arrangements, most of which were comprised of over 30 tracks of instrumentation. Together we found a middle point somewhere between high-end, lo-fi, and epic that oddly enough works.

TD: Your label head is Ben Bronfman, a.k.a. M.I.A.’s baby daddy. Any chances or plans for a M.I.A. collaboration sometime in the future? It seems like your polyrhythmic beats would be a good and interesting fit.

AM: We’re focusing on touring right now, though new collaborations are always in the works. Green Owl does have a knack for connecting like-minded artists from different musical backgrounds. Our singles, “Everlasting” and “Saturn Returns” were remixed by two great dub/electronic artists, CHLLNGR and Runaway. It’s always interesting to see how other artists interpret your work.

TD: Since it has taken so long for the release of Everlasting, do you have any new material ready for the next album yet? Will the next album be more collaborative now that you have a full-fledged band?

AM: We are definitely itching to start working on a new album. Members of Grandchildren are continually working on new material. I think it’s how we keep sane and motivated. You can expect the new stuff to be unexpected.

TD: Your sound is quite eclectic. Who do you think would be your ideal fit to share a bill with?

AM: Queen, David Bowie, Fela Kuti, Rachmaninoff, Stanley Kubrick, and a middle school marching band. Somehow I think that’s not gonna happen though.

TD: If you had to pick one song that always takes you to your “happy place”, what would it be?

AM: “I Want You Back'” by The Jackson 5.

TD: In our interview with Man Man’s Honus Honus, he said that Grandchildren is his favorite Philly band right now and “very sick”. Who’s your favorite band or artist in Philly right now?

AM: The Extraordinaires, Power Animal, Dangerous Ponies, and of course…Man Man.

TD: You go down to Central America every summer. Please feel free to talk about what you do down there, how long you’ve been doing it, and what you did there this summer.

AM: I co-run a cultural exchange program in Nicaragua with my friend Maria Aldana, called Art of Solidarity. We bring North American artists and filmmakers to collaborate with Nicaraguan artists and develop digital media labs. In partnership with those artists, we teach art and media skills at a high school. We’ve produced murals, music and video documentaries. My travels through Central America, especially Nicaragua, have informed my approach to making art and music immensely. I’ve gone every year for the past 6 years. It’s like my second home.

TD: Would you ever live anywhere in Philly besides West Philly? If so, where?

AM: University City.

TD: What’s the best thing about Philly?

AM: The underrated talent. Best kept secret.

TD: What’s the worst thing about Philly?

AM: Philadelphia Parking Authority.

TD: What is your favorite thing to get at the deli?

AM: Ham and swiss from Fu Wah.